By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
FRANKFORT – The Administrative Regulations Review Subcommittee turned thumbs down on adoption of new science standards for Kentucky schools Wednesday, but Gov. Steve Beshear will implement them anyway — which he has legal authority to do.
The science standards are part of the core academic standards called for by Senate Bill 1, a major education reform passed by the General Assembly. Standards for math and English have already been adopted and are being used in schools.
But the science standards, written by a group of scientists, educators and experts, with input from Kentucky educators, include requirements that students examine concepts of natural selection — evolution — and climate change, both controversial in Kentucky.
The subcommittee heard testimony from proponents and opponents of the standards, but it was fairly clear lawmakers had already decided how to vote, so the final 5-1 vote to find the standards “deficient” was almost anti-climactic.
Sen. Perry Clark, D-Louisville, cast the only vote in support of adoption while Rep. Jimmie Lee, D-Elizabethtown, passed.
Co-chairs Rep. Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow; and Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Crestwood; were joined by Sen. Sara Beth Gregory, R-Monticello; Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro; and Rep. Tommy Turner, R-Somerset; in voting no.
About an hour after the meeting, however, Beshear spokesman Terry Sebastian announced Beshear will implement the standards anyway.
“Gov. Beshear fully supports the science standards adopted by the Kentucky Board of Education and is disappointed that the state’s Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee did not approve them today,” Sebastian said. “The governor views these standards as a critical component in preparing Kentuckians for college and the workforce. Therefore, as provided by law, he will implement the regulations notwithstanding the finding of deficiency.”
The committee doesn’t have the authority to reject administrative regulations based on substance. Its actual purpose is to determine if regulations are written in accordance with the constitution and existing law.
However, by finding the regulation deficient, it opens the door for the full General Assembly to override the governor’s action when it convenes in January.
It was clear the committee members received plenty of political pressure from opponents of the new standards.
Bell, who ran Wednesday’s meeting, huddled with Harris and Bowen for several minutes before discussion of the standards regulation commenced. He then began by asking proponents and opponents alike to choose one spokesperson and limit discussion.
“At this stage, I and Sen. Harris and other members have agreed it wouldn’t be positive or changing anything to have a great deal of discussion about this,” Bell said. “The members have been polled and talked to.”
Later when an audience member who had not been invited to testify shouted out a comment, Bell warned that anyone else who spoke out of order would be removed from the room by capitol security officers.
“I’ve been beat up the last two weeks, and I can’t take any more,” Bell said.
Lee said he’d received a minimum of 75 calls on his cellphone Tuesday, all opposing the standards.
“These standards do not have the support of the people of the commonwealth,” said Bowen in explaining his vote. “They do not. What determines good public policy is what the people want.”
Robert Bevins, a former Georgetown College biology professor, testified in support of the standards and pulled no punches.
“Every school of note teaches evolution; every school of note teaches climate change,” Bevins said, speaking of Kentucky and U.S. colleges and universities. He said Kentucky will be seen as “an ignorant backwater” if the standards are rejected and Kentucky students “will not be taken seriously when they apply to out-of-state schools.”
That offended some lawmakers, especially Bowen who said his son graduated from Northwestern University in Chicago, a highly respected university, and hadn’t faced such biases.
Richard Ennis, who holds a master’s degree in engineering and is affiliated with the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, a conservative advocacy group located in Bowling Green, characterized the standards as “low level” and “woefully deficient in engineering.”
Martin Cothran of the Family Foundation, another conservative advocacy group, claimed the standards exhibit “an over emphasis on climate control” while “half of science is left out the science standards.”
But Karen Kidwell, director of Division of Program Standards for the Kentucky Department of Education, read a lengthy list of scientists and academics who support the standards adopted by a 26-state consortium.
Kentucky Education Commissioner Dr. Terry Holliday said after the vote that “no science educators, no business, no one in any scientific association opposes these.”
He said the committee vote “was very much a political vote” and there is “no meat to these issues that we haven’t already addressed.”
Rebecca Blessing, a spokeswoman for KDE, said the department received more than 3,700 public comments in favor of the new standards and only 120 against during the public comment period.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.